Reading Time: 7 minutes

(TW: Child abuse.)

Meet 35-year-old dipshit and criminal Robert David Wright, who was a youth pastor. You’re already cringing, aren’t you? You know what’s coming. And you’re right. Or maybe not right enough. Robert David Wright’s home computer was found to contain all kinds of images of babies being raped. He shared these images with other pedophiles on the internet, and he got caught.

Now, I have to say that the United Methodist Church, which employed (on a volunteer basis) this human shitstain, handled things pretty well. They had a policy in place to ensure their children were safe. Knowing that being Christian and belonging to a Christian church is absolutely no guarantee of someone’s morality, they had rules prohibiting kids being alone with adults, and it looks like they also have rules about never allowing convicted or accused sex offenders anywhere near vulnerable members of their church. The UMC is also pro-choice, incidentally–one pro-life site said they’re members of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and other information I found indicates they encourage female clergy–and I’m betting gay clergy aren’t too far behind women given the recent stuff going on with UMC clergy officiating at gay marriages and whatnot. So obviously these are some of the good guys all around. They clearly recognize that there isn’t some magic spell that turns predators into good people and they don’t think that men have magic penises that make them superior to other humans. So they make sure to protect the people under their care, and they seem to have taken immediate action when a predator gets discovered in their midst.

But can I just say… I’m exhausted keeping up with all the pedophiles and predators feeding off the Christian flock? I’m so glad the UMC had a strategy in place to keep this guy from preying upon children in his church–it doesn’t look like he got a chance to victimize anybody there–and it makes me miserable to think that other churches don’t have such a policy in place.

At least the fundamentalist denomination to which I belonged had rules governing how adults could interact with children. There are churches that don’t really seem to have any rules about how their people should act around children or how to protect the children under their care. And I totally don’t get that. I don’t get why it seems like the Southern Baptist Convention seems dead-set against adopting a predator database or disseminating information about predators who keep moving from church to church–Stop Baptist Predators was one abuse survivor’s attempt to right some of the wrongs she’d suffered, and it has a lot of information about the (lost) fight to force the SBC to adopt protective measures for its children. I don’t get why every single denomination out there doesn’t adopt such measures or why abusers seem to be able to move from church to church at will while leaders just look the other way. The few churches that really seem to get it right, like the UMC, stand out like beacons in the darkness.

Then we’ve got this recent story about a Samoan Catholic nun-in-training who showed up at her training house in D.C. already about to pop with pregnancy, which I reckon her penguin suit concealed nicely. In case you’re wondering, no, nuns are not traditionally pregnant when they enter training, so obviously she lied about being pregnant. She gave birth in secret shortly after her arrival there, then murdered the baby and told her sister-nuns that she’d just found this poor little thing outside already dead. It’s infuriating, and it happened because this woman didn’t have a lot of other options–in her religion, sexual activity, especially for nuns, is considered shameful and forbidden. But she’d obviously already been sexually active long before arriving at this convent. What if she’d had access to good, reliable contraception and a culture that supported its use (which Samoa doesn’t really go for)? What if she’d been able to honestly tell those around her what was going on? What if she’d felt able to give the baby up for adoption, if abortion was such an abhorrent idea? The real tragedy here is that a baby died because the Catholic Church says out one side of its mouth that it’s “pro-life” and worships babies and fetuses above women’s lives and health, but out of the other side pursues policies and practices that all but guarantee that babies will be born unwanted, impoverished, and abused.

Abandoned (Photo credit: Big Grey Mare)

And in ultra-religious Idaho, the Jesus Party GOP there won’t even consider passing a bill to force over-zealous parents to get medical care for their kids instead of just praying to heal them. This is one of the states that’s tried to sneak super-anti-abortion bills into law, and I can tell you from personal interactions with these lawmakers that they are really gung-ho about destroying women’s bodily rights if they (totally erroneously) think it’ll save the lives of “pweshus widdle baybeez.” But they’re totally fine with these kids dying because, as one state representative puts it, “This is about where they go for eternity.” (Though one might ask why this particular representative is so upset about abortion, given that most fundagelicals believe that fetuses would go straight to heaven, so if that goal is so important that she’s willing to let children die painfully and gruesomely of ruptured esophagi and totally treatable cancers, I don’t see what her problem is with abortion.) WWJD in Idaho? Watch a teenaged girl choke on her own bile until she suffocates, apparently, and sit idly by while a little boy dies of leukemia. It’s just so danged Christian, isn’t it?

Of course, for all its preening concern for children, Idaho is hardly immune to the tidal wave of scandals around the sexual abuse of children–just a couple years ago a lawsuit got brought against one northern Idaho church for giving a predator unfettered access to children under its care. And let’s not forget that it’s the home of Doug Wilson, famous neo-confederate slavery and misogyny advocate who thinks that the days of slavery were happy and awesome for everybody, and who apparently also covered up molestation going on in his own church; as the SPLC link reveals, Doug Wilson thinks the penalty for child abuse should be death–except when it’s one of his hand-picked disciples facing the charge. At that point, by all means the parents of the victims of his negligence should be the ones put under church discipline for “failing to protect” their children–from Mr. Wilson’s own staff.

We’re also going to just mention, as an aside, the ongoing scandal the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts are having regarding sexual abuse of children, a scandal fed and fueled largely by these organizations’ refusal to properly report pedophiles and abusers and bring them to justice. They are both bigoted and sexist, and both have a lot to lose, privilege and dominance-wise, if they start valuing all their members equally.

So what are we to think of this rather two-faced attitude toward children?

It seems to me that the more paternalistic and patriarchal a church is, the more predation and abuse it encourages. It draws men to it that dig the authority they get just for having penises and love the permission they get to be authoritarian and controlling toward those around themselves. The more fundamentalist a church gets, the more of these sorts of men it draws to itself–and the women it draws will be the broken sort like I was who really respond to that kind of control and structure. It seems to me that all this worry and concern about children is completely self-serving because it is discarded the moment it becomes inconvenient or troublesome, and because it ignores some very real threats to children’s welfare in the name of enshrining male privilege.

Such a zealous viewpoint exalts the “natural order of things” and the flow of authority from god to men to women to children to animals to plants to the ground itself underfoot, and has a lot of trouble acknowledging that not all men were really cut out for that kind of authority or control over others. If they acknowledged that, then the entire power structure would tremble, because that would imply that some women are far better suited for that leadership than some men are. It would mean that there isn’t some inherent quality inborn in men that makes them qualified to lead–that it’s purely a skill that can be acquired, learned, and honed just like any management skills can be. And if it is simply a skill, then women can most definitely learn it too. Let’s not even get into what happens if children are not slaves and possessions of their parents, but actually do have “personhood” and should get all the rights and protections that adults get (including an autopsy if they die under suspicious circumstances–thank Idaho for that one too, since they don’t consider withholding medical care from children to be any kind of a suspicious circumstance as long as it’s done by zealots).

A church that does not value all of its people equally (and I mean really equally, not the fake complementarian bullpuckey they think is their fundie equivalent to equality) is a church that is headed for scandal. It’s that simple.

Such an authoritarian, hierarchical view of people doesn’t cope well with cooperation. It needs control. I bet if I tallied up the sexual and physical abuse charges coming out of churches, I’d find way more of them happening in the far-right churches than in the more liberal left-leaning ones. I’m willing to bet the churches with a more authoritarian and restrictive view of women–like Catholics and evangelicals–will have a lot more of these scandals too. I just don’t see any way for a rigid hierarchical system to work any other way. It’s going to draw predators who count on that borrowed power to give them the freedom they need to operate, and if women especially don’t have a voice in the power structure, they cannot count on Jesus to give them a voice when they are abused, and at that point children, who are even more vulnerable than women are, can’t help but become victims as well.

It’s the craziest thing, isn’t it?

Almost as if there’s no deity making sure men and women are both treated fairly and evenly and that nobody’s being preyed upon and abused.

But that can’t be right, can it?

So, in summation, I thank the UMC and churches like it for realizing that they need to be realistic about human nature, and castigate churches that think all they need to do is be Christian and that’ll take care of any concerns about children’s safety. You know how “family values” became a byword for “about to get caught diddling someone he really shouldn’t be diddling”? In time, that’s what’s going to happen with all this faux concern about children–the people yelling loudest about it are going to get caught, again and again, hurting and abusing children, but that mental translation can’t happen fast enough for me.

We’re going to talk about borrowed authority next time and how religious predators use and abuse it, and as always, I hope you will join me.

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...